Primate (Lat. primus; Fr. primat, first) is the title of a grade in the hierarchy immediately below the rank of patriarch (q.v.). In point of jurisdiction the primacy was, historically, developed out of the episcopate by papal communication of primatial rights. The primates, in this sense of the word, are more particularly an institution of the West; for although the Greek denomination ἔξαρχος is generally translated by primuus, there are unmistakable differences. The exarchs of the East were subordinated to no patriarch, and were, so far as rights are concerned, their equals in their dioceses and only in rank were they their inferiors. Such relations were out of the question in the Western Church, where the patriarchate was held by the papal primate in the person of the bishop of Rome, who was recognized as possessing universal supreme jurisdiction. The primates, as such, were metropolitans who enjoyed a preeminence of jurisdiction over the other bishops of a country. This pre-eminence was founded on their right of consecrating the other metropolitans and bishops, of convoking national councils, of receiving appeals, etc. Originally this dignity was connected with the nomination to a pontifical vicariate, as was the case with the bishop of Arles, and it rested, in general, on an explicit appointment by the pope. There was one exception to that in the person of the bishop of Carthage, who, though not assuming the primatial title, exerted all the rights implied by it in Africa. The relation in which the primacy almost everywhere stood to the national interests, which obliged its bearers, as the first bishops of the State, to take some share in the political concerns, exercised a detrimental influence, and led some of them to assert overbearing pretensions contrary to the authority of the head of the Church. The importance of the primacy has melted away in the course of time, and in most cases nothing remains of it but some exterior distinctions. The chief primatial sees of the West were: in Spain — Seville and Tarragona (afterwards united in Toledo); in France-Arles. Rheims, Lyons, and Rouen (among whom the archbishop of Lyons claims the title of primat des primats, "primate of the primates"); in England-Canterbury; in Germany — Mainz, Salzburg, and Trier; in Ireland — Armagh, and for the Pale, Dublin; in Scotland — St. Andrews; in Hungar — Gran; in Poland-Gnesen; and in the Northern kingdoms-Lund.
In the Church of England the archbishop of Canterbury is styled primate of all England; the archbishop of York, primate of England. In Ireland, the archbishop of Armagh is primate of all Ireland, and the archbishop of Dublin, primate of Ireland. The title of primate in England and Ireland confers no jurisdiction beyond that of archbishop. The name prinus is applied in the Scottish Episcopal Church to the presiding bishop. He is chosen by the bishops out of their own number, without their being bound to give effect to seniority of consecration or precedency of diocese.